Act one: Introducing the problem
I don’t care much for rules. In fact, the last time we talked, I told you to break every rule of writing you’d ever been taught. You’ll notice this post doesn’t have a traditional introductory paragraph (gasp!). I have a reason for that.
When I was a wet-behind-the-ears screenwriter (still am, in fact), I was given just one rule to abide by: Keep it interesting. The same principle applies to all writing. If you don’t grab your audience’s attention from the get-go, nobody’s going to give a damn about what follows. A traditional three-act structure is designed to do just that. But the longer the piece — such as a blog post — the harder it becomes to hold your reader’s interest.
In screenwriting, we refer to the introduction of the problem as the inciting incident. Learning a massive asteroid the size of Texas is careening towards Earth? That’s one. Enter the protagonist(s), whose mission it is to solve that problem. Voilà: Act one.
In a blog, you or the client you represent is the protagonist. You have a goal, and it’s always the same: You have something — whether it’s a product or information — that promises to make someone else’s life easier. Act one of your blog is your opportunity to introduce the problem and say how you’re going to solve that problem.
So let’s figure out how we’re going to land Bruce Willis on that freaking asteroid.
Act two: Fleshing out the problem
Act two will make or break a screenplay. Same goes for a blog post. This is where you get to introduce and resolve individual arcs that play to the overall narrative and jive with your overarching goals. Just like a good movie, your blog also needs a strong supporting cast. Detailed bullet points, external links, and quotes from reputable sources are all elements that support your overall objective and show your reader you know what you’re talking about.
Your main objective during the second act is to hold your reader’s attention by building and releasing tension — sometimes in the same sentence. Screenwriters everywhere are familiar with the dreaded second act slump. The beginning and end are the easy parts. It’s the stuff in the middle that’s hard to write. But if you can’t support your claims, your story will collapse on itself. It won’t be interesting.
When in doubt, get in and get out. Too many movies slump during the second act because they try to introduce too many characters or storylines. It’s not worth fluffing up a blog post if your reader’s going to bounce by bullet point three. Concision is key, and definitely your sidekick when you’re trying to hold your reader’s attention.
Act three: Resolving the problem
I tend to hinge my entire judgment of a movie on its ending. After all, it’s only building to one thing. You can’t mess up the ending and expect people to want to come back for your next project (looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan). The last act is where the popular kid falls in love with the misfit, Middle Earth returns to hunky-dory status, and Bill Murray realizes the only way he’s going to escape Punxsutawney purgatory is by becoming a decent person.
That’s not to say the denouement needs to be a happy one; it just has to be a satisfactory one. Ask yourself: At the end of my blog, have I inspired my reader to act? Have I invited him or her to seek out additional knowledge? Or have I simply cut to black with nothing but a weak call-to-action to cling to? Think of your blog’s conclusion as the last shot of the movie, the heavy-handed hint at a sequel, or even the after-credits stinger. You want your audience to leave with something to do, something to look forward to.
Think of your favorite movies. I’m betting dollars to doughnuts each of them follows a traditional three-act structure. It’s what our brains crave. So it goes with every blog you write. If you’re aimlessly gunning for a word count and writing fluff that doesn’t support your goals, Houston, you have a problem. The next time you write a blog (or anything, for that matter), I challenge you to keep the three-act structure in mind. Introduce a problem, support your methods for tackling that problem, then ultimately offer up a resolution.
And, above all, keep it interesting.